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Leslie Dawson Jr. (2 February 1931 – 10 June 1993) was an English comedian, actor, writer, and presenter, who is best remembered for his deadpan style, curmudgeonly persona and jokes about his mother-in-law and wife.
Leslie Dawson Jr.
2 February 1931
|Died||10 June 1993 (aged 62)|
Whalley Range, Manchester, England
|Known for||Comedy and stage|
(m. 1960; until her death in 1986)
(m. 1989; until his death in 1993)
Les Dawson was born in Collyhurst, Manchester, on 2 February 1931, to Leslie Dawson, Sr. and Julia Nolan, who was of Irish descent. His first job was in the parcels department of the Manchester Co-op. He worked briefly as a journalist on the Bury Times.
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Before his fame Dawson wrote poetry and kept it secret. It was not expected that someone of his working class background would have literary ambitions. In a BBC Television documentary, he spoke of his love for canonical figures in English literature, in particular the 19th century essayist Charles Lamb, whose florid style influenced Dawson's.
Dawson claimed in his autobiography that he began entertaining as a pianist in a Parisian brothel. Making a living as a pianist evolved into comedy when he got laughs by playing wrong notes and complaining to the audience. He made his television debut on the talent show Opportunity Knocks in 1967 and became a prominent comic on British television for the rest of his life.
His characteristic routines featured Roy Barraclough and Dawson as elderly women, Cissie Braithwaite and Ada Shufflebotham. Barraclough's character Cissie had pretensions of refinement and corrected Ada's malapropisms or vulgar expressions. As authentic characters of their day, they spoke some words aloud but mouthed others, particularly those pertaining to bodily functions and sex. The characters were based on those Les Dawson knew in real life. He explained that this mouthing of words (or "mee-mawing") was a habit of Lancashire millworkers trying to communicate over the loud noise of looms, then resorted to in daily life for indelicate subjects. To further portray the reality of northern, working class women, Cissie and Ada would sit with folded arms, occasionally adjusting their bosoms by a hoist of the forearms. Many Cissie and Ada sketches were written by Terry Ravenscroft. This was also typical of pantomime dame style, an act copied from his hero, Norman Evans and his act Over the Garden Wall.
Les Dawson was portly and often dressed in John Bull costume. He introduced to his BBC television shows a dancing group of fat ladies called the Roly Polys. Dawson's style as a comic was world-weary, lugubrious and earthy.
He was a talented pianist but developed a gag in which he played a familiar piece such as Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and then introduced hideously wrong notes (yet not destroying the tune) without appearing to realise, smiling unctuously and relishing the accuracy and soul of his own performance.
Having broken his jaw in a boxing match, he could pull grotesque faces by pulling his jaw over his upper lip. This is described in the first volume of Dawson's autobiography A Clown Too Many.
Dawson was a heavy smoker and drinker. When not working he would often drink a bottle of whisky and smoke 50 cigarettes a day. Dawson was initiated into the famous show business fraternity, the Grand Order of Water Rats and served as that order's "King Rat" in 1985.
Dawson starred in Listen to Les on BBC Radio 2 in the 1970s and 1980s. Television series in which he appeared included Sez Les for Yorkshire Television, The Dawson Watch for the BBC, written by Andy Hamilton and Terry Ravenscroft, The Les Dawson Show, written by Terry Ravenscroft, Dawson's Weekly, Jokers Wild (1969–73) and the quiz show Blankety Blank, which he presented from 1984 until its cancellation in 1990. He made many appearances on BBC Television's variety show, The Good Old Days in the 1970s and '80s. When Richard Wilson turned down the part of Victor Meldrew in the BBC sitcom One Foot In The Grave, writer David Renwick considered Dawson for the role, but Wilson changed his mind before it was offered. His final TV appearance was on the LWT series Surprise, Surprise hosted by Cilla Black, in which he sang a comic rendition of "I Got You Babe" with a woman from the audience who wanted to sing with him. The episode was aired shortly after his death.
Dawson was also a regular panelist on the popular comedy panel game Jokers Wild, hosted by Barry Cryer, where he and other comedians of his day would compete to see who knew the most jokes on various topics.
Dawson was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in December 1971 when Eamonn Andrews surprised him on Opportunity Knocks, and again 21 years later, in what would be one of his last television appearances, when he was surprised by Michael Aspel on stage at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, at the curtain call of the pantomime Dick Whittington in December 1992.
Dawson nearly died in 1985 from a failing prostate gland, complicated by blood poisoning. On 3 September 1988 he suffered a heart attack in Blackpool and spent nine days in hospital.
Dawson was married to his first wife, Margaret, from 25 June 1960 until her death on 15 April 1986 from cancer. They had three children: Julie, Pamela and Stuart. He married his second wife, Tracy, on 6 May 1989; she was 17 years younger. They had a daughter, Charlotte, who was born on 3 October 1992.
On 10 June 1993, Dawson went to a hospital in Whalley Range, Manchester, for a medical check-up. While waiting for the results with his wife, he suffered a major heart attack and died.
On 23 October 2008, 15 years after his death, a bronze statue by Graham Ibbeson was unveiled by his widow Tracy and daughter Charlotte in the ornamental gardens next to the pier in St Anne's-on-Sea, Lancashire, where Dawson lived for many years.
The BBC broadcast, on BBC Two, The Many Faces of Les Dawson, a retrospective, on Christmas Eve 2011.
On 1 June 2013 ITV broadcast Les Dawson: An Audience with That Never Was. The programme featured a Pepper's ghost projection of Dawson, presenting content for a 1993 edition of An Audience with... to be hosted by Dawson but unused due to his death two weeks before recording. The show served as a tribute and featured celebrities including Bruce Forsyth, Cilla Black, Terry Wogan and Ken Dodd. Also among the audience were Dawson's wife Tracy and daughter Charlotte (who was only eight months old when he died).
On 10 February 2014, the BBC reported that Dawson's daughter Charlotte had found a 110-page "unpublished story of love and mystery, titled An Echo of Shadows, [that] was written under the name Maria Brett-Cooper...".
- A Clown Too Many (autobiography, 1986)
- No Tears for the Clown (autobiography, 1992)
- Hitler Was My Mother-in-Law
- Well Fared, My Lovely
- Come Back with the Wind
- The Spy Who Came
- The Blade and the Passion
- Card for the Clubs
- The Amy Pluckett Letters
- Malady Lingers on and Other Great Groaners
- Les Dawson's Lancashire
- A Time Before Genesis
- Les Dawson Gives Up
- The Les Dawson Joke Book
- Cosmo Smallpiece Guide to Male Liberation
- Les Dawson's Secret Notebooks
- "Les Dawson | British comedian". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 24 October 2019.
- Smurthwaite, Nick (11 June 1993). "Obituary: Les Dawson". The Independent. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
- Stephenson, John-Paul (12 September 2013). "Interview: Steve Nallon #1 – "A celebration of Les"". Giggle Beats.
- Dipper, Andrew (9 September 2013). "Ray Peacock's tribute to Les Dawson". Giggle Beats. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
- "The Unforgettable Les Dawson", ITV, 11 December 2000
- McGrath, Nick (29 September 2012). "Looking after Les Dawson's legacy". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
- Plunkett, John (26 July 2016). "I don't believe it! Victor Meldrew role almost went to Les Dawson" – via The Guardian.
- Jem Roberts (18 May 2010). "JOKERS WILD 1 of 3". Retrieved 13 April 2018 – via YouTube.
- Liverpool Echo - 5 September 1988.
- Crothers, Jennifer (28 March 2017). "Charlotte Dawson has a night out in Barcelona with her mum Tracy". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
- "Dawson statue unveiled by family". bbc.co.uk. 23 October 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
- "The comedians' comedian". Chortle.co.uk. 1 December 2004. Archived from the original on 30 January 2016. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
- Logan, Brian (31 May 2013). "Can a hologram Les Dawson tell 'em like he used to?". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
- TVGuide. "TV Guide UK TV Guide- UK's No 1 TV Listing site for Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media, Freesat & BT Vision". TVGuide.co.uk. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
- "Les Dawson wrote secret romantic novel in woman's name" at BBC News, accessed 13 September 2014.